People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor)
At the Jim Thompson Art Center
7 March – 18 June 2017

A group exhibition featuring:
Khvay Samnang (based in Phnom Penh)
Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho (based in Manila, Berlin and New York)
Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai (based in Hue)

Curated by Roger Nelson (based in Phnom Penh)

At the Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok
7 March to 18 June 2017, daily from 9.00am til 8.00pm
Artists’ talks on Tuesday 7 March at 4.30pm
Opening celebrations on Tuesday 7 March at 6.30pm

Public programs will include publication launches, as well as a lecture in English by Simon Soon (based in Kuala Lumpur) on the art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy, and a lecture in Thai by Thasnai Sethaseree (based in Chiang Mai) on diasporic communities in the United States.
Please check our website for more details.

Continuing our focus on regional perspectives, the Jim Thompson Art Center is pleased to present People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor), a group exhibition featuring major works never before shown in Thailand, by internationally acclaimed artists whose work engages with ideas and processes of travel and migration. The exhibiting artists include Cambodia’s Khvay Samnang, who will concurrently be exhibiting at documenta 14 in Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany: one of the world’s most prestigious platforms for contemporary art, held once every five years.

People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor) explores how the travel and migration of populations and industries, ideas and spiritual beliefs, aesthetics and technologies, and artists themselves are continually remaking our world—within and beyond the region we call Southeast Asia—and how this is manifested in the practices of the exhibiting artists. That is, the exhibition is about the process of movement itself as the hinge on which the works turn, rather than about questions that can be said to inhere in any single location. All of the exhibited works were created not in the artists’ ‘home’ cities, but rather in distant sites charged with locally-specific meanings, both historical and contemporary.

The works in the exhibition consider movement both as an experience, and as an object of artistic research. Each of the artists have chosen questions and concerns relating to the displacement of people, the shifts in foreign capital, and their haunting after-effects as historical traces in contemporary locations. These sites of interest mirror the artists’ own experiences of movement and processes of working.

In recent years, the exhibiting artists—like many others—have embraced travel as a necessary condition for practice. This increased mobility becomes a methodology of research and experimentation; that is, movement figures both an experience and a subject for artistic research. This is also related to infrastructural shifts within the transnational system of contemporary art, including the rise of artists’ residencies as important sources of financial support and creative enrichment. No longer primarily just about experiencing a new location or detouring from routine, residencies are now opportunities for interactions that complement and reinforce diversely layered networks. The artist’s residency is a format rendered especially important in contexts with limited state support for contemporary art, and in globalizing neoliberal economies, which drive artists (like others) to seek opportunities in diverse locations from largely non-state sources. Unlike large-scale exhibitionary formats such as biennales, the ascending phenomenon of the artist’s residency has been subject to relatively scant scrutiny in scholarly, curatorial, artistic and other settings.

People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor) is not an exhibition about artists’ residencies; it is an exhibition which asks if we can imagine and make sense of a world in perpetual flux, an endlessly reconfiguring constellation of moving parts, a conflagration of swirling forces and forms than cannot be apprehended from any single viewpoint.

Shifts between locations and movements through space become central motifs in the practices of these artists for whom regular relocation has become a necessary circumstance. These artists offer a way of seeing this region as a dynamic network of inter-relationships that are constantly being reconfigured, and that hungrily hop across national borders within Southeast Asia, and across the imaginary boundaries of the region itself.

 

About the exhibited works

Two projects by Khvay Samnang explore movement in expanded Cambodian contexts. Yantra Man (2015), originally exhibited at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin in 2015, explores the largely forgotten history of Cambodian soldiers sent to fight for France in World War 1. Consisting of metal sculptures and installation, with the protective amulets and designs of the Khmer yantra as a recurring motif, the work considers resonances between the soldiers’ historical experiences, and the contemporary experience of working from home. Rubber Man (2014) consists of a single-channel video of a performance by the artist, and an installation comprising of wooden sculptures presented on richly fertile red soil, like that found in the Rattanakiri province of northern Cambodia. The work explores the environmental, social and spiritual effects of the rubber plantations in this region. Performing in the video, the artist pours fresh, liquid rubber over his naked body, then walks through deserted rubber plantations, over the ruined remains of the old-growth forests that they have destroyed. When the forests are gone, where can the indigenous spirits of these upland regions live? These two ambitious, multi-part bodies of work inform Samnang’s new project, which exhibits from April in Athens and from June in Kassel, as part of documenta 14.

Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho are a collaborating duo, who present a new series comprising objects they term ‘video sculptures.’ These explore the figure of a kind of ghost found in locations throughout Southeast Asia: a mythical creature which self-segments, leaving its legs in the (literal or metaphorical) forest while its head and torso flies through the city to terrorize its inhabitants. In Thailand this creature is called akrasue, and in Cambodia it is an arb . The starting point for the artists’ interest in this mutant and mutating figure was the Philippine manananggal,and the krasue/arb/manananggal is here proposed by the artists as a poetically resonant symbol of an ever-shifting sense of self: one without a fixed centre, one that perpetually migrates rather than having a ‘home,’ one that resists rational categorization. This is ‘an open-source monster,’ the artists suggest, borrowing the vocabulary of collaborative and user-generated software. The three discrete but interrelated (and quietly interactive) works, newly created for this exhibition, build on forms previously explored by the artists at the Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore and at 47 Canal Gallery in New York, with the motif of the manananggal also appearing in a deliberately centre-less multi-venue exhibition in Berlin in 2016. Floating ceramic heads project stylised video imagery that echoes fashion shoots, shot primarily in Cambodia and intercut with footage found elsewhere. The works suggest that the ‘haunting’ that these artists are most drawn to is around the rapid transformations in urban environments across the region, and the still unresolved questions this ‘development’ raises for the future.

Day by Day (2014-7) by Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai explores the experience of stateless Vietnamese migrant communities living in floating villages in Cambodia and in Vietnam. These communities have faced decades of hardship, including persecution during the American War in Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and continue to be denied many human rights including basic education and healthcare, as a result of being unable to obtain legal identification documents from either nation. The project consists of a one-hour video, a participatory installation of false ‘identity cards,’ and a series of collaborative digital photographic collages installed inside a small hut constructed in the gallery space from coconut-leaf thatching. The exhibited work combines some aspects previously shown at SA SA BASSAC in Phnom Penh and at Saola in the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum, along with newly produced aspects made on-site in the floating villages in Cambodia and Vietnam, during an extended stay in 2016.

Each of these works have the potential to resonate with charged contemporary circumstances and submerged historical narratives in Thailand. Many artists working in Thailand adopt a migratory and nomadic practice, and implicitly propose the liberating potentials of a sense of pan-regional Southeast Asian experience, rather than nationally delimited identity.

 

About the artists and curator

Khvay Samnang (born 1982, based in Phnom Penh) is one of Cambodia’s most prominent visual artists. He works in performance, photography, video, and installation, and is especially interested in exploring contentious political issues, social and cultural transformations, and historical narratives in Cambodia and beyond. “How can we show something, if we cannot say it?,” the artists playfully asks. Samnang holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts (2006), and has undertaken numerous residencies including at Berlin’s Kunstlerhaus Bethanien (2014-15), New York’s Residency Unlimited (2013), and Tokyo Wonder Site (2011 and 2010). He is co-founder of Sa Sa Art Projects, Phnom Penh’s only artist-run space, and SA SA BASSAC, a gallery and resource centre. In addition to numerous exhibitions in Cambodia since 2004, his recent international exhibitions include documenta 14 (Athens and Kassel, 2017), Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (2016), Jeu de Paume (Paris, 2015 and 2014), Asia Pacific Triennial (Brisbane, 2015), ZKM Center of Art and Media (Karlsruhe, 2015), Asian Art Biennial (Taipei, 2014), Singapore Biennale (2013), and the Jewish Museum (New York, 2013).

Amy Lien (born 1987, based in Manila and New York) and Enzo Camacho (born 1985, based in Manila and Berlin) are a duo who have worked exclusively in collaboration since 2009. Their works, which they wryly describe as “not so medium-specific,” often include video and installations that mimic the aesthetics of online and nocturnal environments. Drawn to liminal circumstances—figures between genders, activities between leisure and labour, works between affect and irony—the artists both hold Bachelors Arts from Harvard University (Cambridge, USA, 2009 and 2007), and a joint Master of Fine Arts from Hochschule für bildende Künste (Hamburg, Germany, 2014). They have been on nearly constant residencies since 2015, including at Milan’s Gluck50 (2015), Singapore’s Centre for Contemporary Art (2015), Shanghai’s Am Art Space (2016), and Phnom Penh’s Sa Sa Art Projects (2017). Lien and Camacho’s recent exhibitions include Manananggal has appeared in Berlin (various locations in Berlin, 2016), Physics Room (Christchurch, New Zealand, 2015), 47 Canal (New York, 2014), Matthew Gallery (Berlin 2014), Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2011), and Green Papaya Art Projects (Quezon City, 2009).

Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai (born 1983, based in Hue) explains that “the notion of struggle and an attention to difficult and repressed feelings are central to my practice.” She works across multiple media, exploring challenges faced by individuals and communities, through a process of long-term immersive research. Initially gaining attention for works engaging women’s bodies and gender-based experiences, her ongoing work in stateless fishing communities in Vietnam and Cambodia intersects with issues of citizenship, and histories of the American War in Indochina. Thanh Mai holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Hue College of the Arts, Vietnam (2006) and a Master of Visual Arts from Mahasarakham University, Thailand (2012). She has undertaken numerous residencies including at Berlin’s Kunstlerhaus Bethanien (2014-15), Phnom Penh’s Sa Sa Art Projects (2014), Cheongju’s HIVE Studio (2013), and Ho Chi Minh City’s Sàn Art (2012). She also teaches at the Hue College of the Arts. Thanh Mai’s recent exhibitions include HDLU Zagreb (2016), Sao La at Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum (2015), Sovereign Asian Art Prize Finalists (Hong Kong, 2015), and Chiang Mai University Museum (2014). She is the recipient of awards from the Pollock Krasner Foundation and the Cultural Development and Exchange Fund.

Roger Nelson is an art historian and independent curator based in Phnom Penh, and is currently completing his PhD candidature at the University of Melbourne. His research centres on questions of modernity and contemporaneity in art, taking Cambodia and the broader region as case studies. Roger is a co-founding co-editor of the new scholarly journal, Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, published by NUS Press at the National University of Singapore. He has contributed essays to scholarly journals including Stedelijk Studies, specialist art magazines including ArtAsiaPacific, as well as books and numerous exhibition catalogues. Roger has curated exhibitions and other projects in Australia, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, including Rates of Exchange, Un-Compared, a nine-month series of exhibitions, residencies, symposia, performances and gatherings at numerous locations in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phnom Penh and Singapore. He has also delivered lectures internationally, including at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In 2015-16, he was a participating scholar in Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art, a research program funded through the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative. This is Roger’s first exhibition at Jim Thompson Art Center.

The exhibition People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor) features the artists Khvay Samnang, Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho, and Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai, and is curated by Roger Nelson. It runs from 7 March to 18 June 2017.

The gallery is open from 9.00am to 8.00pm, with free admission.

The artists and curator are available for interview upon request.
For more information:

Phone: 02.612.6741
Email: artcenter@jimthompsonhouse.com
Facebook: the Jim Thompson Art Center
Website: www.jimthompsonartcenter.org